THE FLIGHT TO SACRAMENTO
He did not move to first class when the flight attendant offered. “I haven’t talked to a pretty girl in a while,” he explained. “I haven’t had a drink in a year,” yet now—at least three, he threw the whiskey back
like a storm in his throat. When he asked me, “Would you like to see some photos?” I thought he meant of his wife, who yes, again, he had not seen for a year. But it was not his wife, but dead men, misshapen
in an uncanny grace, their haggard postures lolling in the mix of grass and dust. There was one man who had been sliced at the shoulders like a bust, positioned like a king or Rodin’s Balzac in the sulphur
ground, open-mouthed, something haunted in the gaps of his face, his limbs floundering in the mud around him. I could not look away and the soldier did not want me to. He said, “One trip to Afghanistan is like two
to Iraq. Ask anyone.” There is no one else for me to ask, nowhere to lean or avert my eyes, and I couldn’t anyway, because there was something in him that was pleading for me to look and acknowledge. See this.
See what I did. He would not have forgiven me. So I looked—photos of clipped tendons lacing broken fences, men in half, the fat of a knee which had been blown. All the enemy, cut like fruit, amusing and a bit
tart in his mouth. And then, he would talk of food and weather, so casually that I bit my lip. Stories of the ill air, sharp desert peaks, the shop stalls full of soap cakes and black potatoes. I asked, circling
above Sacramento, how old are you? Younger than me, a baby. A married baby. I scolded myself, disgusted: Stop this. Stop it. Do not condescend to these men with your Sassoon.
When he hugged his wife at the airport, it was dignified.
—from Rattle #38, Winter 2012